Kenny Atkinson needs to get creative for Brooklyn to have a shot
When matching up with a superior team, you need to be creative on both ends of the floor. If anyone should know that, it should be Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson.
The creativity wasn't there for Brooklyn Thursday night as Philadelphia rolled over the Nets 131-115 to take a 2-1 series lead.
Matching up with the 76ers defensively has been the toughest task for Brooklyn in this series. Philadelphia is a matchup nightmare, featuring a starting lineup with great size and shotmaking ability.
Ben Simmons played phenomenal in game three, leading Philadelphia with 31 point and 9 assists on 9-11 shooting from the field. However, Simmons will never be Brooklyn's biggest concern defensively. His stellar performance was fueled by the superb shooting of J.J. Redick and Tobias Harris.
Harris scored 26 points on a perfect 6-6 shooting from three. Redick scored 26 points, 16 of which came in the third quarter as Philadelphia took control of the game.
With Brooklyn's help defenders preoccupied with Harris and Redick in the halfcourt, Simmons had open runways to get down low and use his size to finish. Simmons also found several opportunities in transition off of 16 Nets turnovers.
Brooklyn's defensive struggles have been a recurring theme this season. Atkinson often switches to a zone, which can slow teams down but isn't sustainable.
The defensive struggles in game three were largely effort based. Joe Harris lost Redick on several occasions. Harris was often looking towards the ball instead of Redick as if he was going to help, allowing the shooter to slide to open spaces for threes.
When guarding Redick, there is no need to look anywhere else. You aren't going to help and you need to be locked in because one step is enough for Redick to get separation and curl off a screen for an open look.
Brooklyn also fell asleep in transition and allowed Tobias Harris to step into open looks far too easily. The Nets weren't locked in and Redick and Harris made them pay.
The most frustrating part of Brooklyn's struggles defending Redick was their complete shutdown of Harris on the opposite end. Redick was in Harris' face all night, not allowing him to get open off of screens.
Harris needs to be more active off the ball and find ways to gain a step on defenders just as Redick did on him throughout the game. Atkinson must also break away from Brooklyn's conventional sets and throw a different movement at Philadelphia to get Harris open.
With Redick and Harris heating up and Simmons unable to shoot, the Nets would be wise to go small-ball and switch on off-ball screens. Atkinson opted to go small with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in place of Jarrett Allen in the second half.
If the Nets are going to go small, they Nets need to take advantage of that versatility and switch on off-ball screens on Redick to take away the outside shot. If you aren't going to do that, why bother?
You're not putting Hollis-Jefferson in the game for his offensive ability.
Brooklyn's offense was no better in the loss. Philadelphia looked inspired, staying on top of the Nets guards and applying pressure all night.
Atkinson's squad fell into isolation far too often, settling for contested jumpers. Brooklyn had just 12 assists to Philadelphia's 26 in the loss.
Philadelphia's weak spot defensively is covering the pick and roll. The Nets found success when attacking off the pick and roll with D'Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert, but as Philadelphia's lead grew they got away from it.
The pick and roll not only allows Russell and LeVert to find open looks in the mid-range, but it also sparks ball movements off of defensive rotations. This leads to open looks for shooters like Harris or penetration for opportunities at the rim.
If the Nets want to be successful, they need to stay away from the isolation game against Philadelphia's bigger, athletic lineups.
Offensive struggles can also be attributed to a lack of transition offense. The Nets excel when the get out in transition and pace and space to get shooters looks. When the Nets can't get stops, they can't get out in transition.
Brooklyn has an opportunity at home in game four to even the series. However, they need to tighten up on both ends of the floor.
Defenders can't fall asleep off-ball on shooters and Atkinson must take advantage of versatility with small lineups. Offensively, Atkinson needs to draw something up to get Harris an open look and ball handlers must take advantage of the pick and roll.
The series isn't over, but if Brooklyn wants to make it interesting, they need to get creative.